16 Aug Soul chats with Bernii
Names: Brigid Ryan and Seana Ryan (sisters)
Origin: Australian , born in Melbourne. Living in Bangalow. Company: Bernii
Tell us about Bernii. How did it come to be?
[Brigid] When Seana and I both became mothers around four years ago, we searched to find nappy bags that were functional but also stylish, durable, and unisex, but there were limited options. There is something about the good old nappy bag that says ‘I’m prepared ’, and when Eddie was born I really needed that. Yet something about that polyester, blue elephant covered number just wasn’t saying ‘prepared’. To me it said something more along the lines of ‘enter the vortex – please leave all individual style at the door’.
So after a little while of settling for alternative non-prescribed nappy bags we decided to design something that met our needs and I guess we have evolved from there. Our brand aims to celebrate the change parenthood brings – it is a beautiful, amazing, crazy messy and challenging journey that is best shared with your partner and in a community. We named our label after our grandmother Bernadette who was very much like our mother is – a strong, forward-thinking, intelligent and hardworking mother who juggled work and babies, loves traditions and has unique style. We launched Bernii late last year with our first design, t he Bernii Baby Bag , and our vision is to grow with further designs that place style, functionality and sustainability at their core.
Your focus is on style, functionality and sustainability – tell us why these elements are so important to you?
[Brigid ] I think they are the pillars of good design. If all the things we consumed were designed to be beautiful, function well, be versatile and durable and were sustainably produced we would probably be in a much better world.
[Seana] There is just so much ‘stuff’ that is marketed to new mums. Later you realise the on-trend gadget that you didn’t use that much has fallen apart – but the beautiful quality items can be used again and again. That’s what we want in all our designing and manufacturing.
Your bags are crafted in Italy by 3rd generation leather artisans, how did you go about sourcing production?
[Seana] It was a massive journey for us actually, we had samples made in many different countries and learnt a lot about leather craftsmanship and manufacturing. When we finally decided that Italy was where we wanted to produce to achieve the quality we desired we were lucky enough to have some contacts in Florence who introduced us to a few leather artisans. We travelled there to meet with them and look at their processes. In the end the family we chose to work with are third generation leather artisans with the three generations currently working together in their small business. Grandparents, children and grandchildren all have their roles.
What do you say to the person who says “that’s an outrageous amount to spend on a baby bag”?
[Brigid] Oh – haha – we have had to answer that question actually so I suppose I would ask them to consider three things: longevity, quality and payment options.
You are not just buying a baby bag that will last the 2-3 years your child is wearing nappies – it can become an heirloom. The bag becomes more beautiful the older it gets and it’s been designed with longevity in mind. The baby bag components are removable so it works incredibly well as a work or travel bag for both women and men. Its fits a 15” laptop and we just found out the other day that you can now claim your work bags/handbags on tax in Australia if it fits a laptop (hooray!)
You are paying for quality and sustainable manufacturing. Our baby bags are made from vegetable tanned Italian leather that has been hand cut, sewn and washed. They are lined with black linen and come with versatile linen drawing bags and a change mat. We use the highest quality hardware and zipper pullers. Many retailers buy products wholesale so essentially you are paying three times the cost of making the item. We are keeping costs down by selling direct to customers online and in-store with honest profit margins whilst not mass producing in China.
We still understand that for many this is a luxury item so for those who understand and value the points we have mentioned above yet still do not have the cashflow to purchase our bags, we offer afterpay and a couple of times a year we offer our subscribers specials to take advantage of.
You are opening a concept store soon in Bangalow … tell us about this and what else is in line for Bernii?
[Seana] We have now opened at 8/10 Station Street Bangalow. It’s been fantastic to meet our customers and have a place to showcase our bags. We are currently opening 9-2 Thursday- Saturday or by appointment.
[Brigid] In the coming months we are making plans to travel to Italy again and collaborate with our producer on further designs.We know our customers love to travel and we want to offer a further range that supports families travelling with little ones.
Your thoughts on the ‘work -life’ balance discussion. What’s your best piece of advice?
[Brigid] Balance is an ongoing journey for everyone I think isn’t it? Initially we thought juggling was the only way to make it work – you know the scene… cooking dinner, holding a crying baby, watching your toddler draw on the floor but going with it because it means you can finish that work phone call or answer that email really quickly. Yikes!
We have since discovered being present with your family and/or your work is really important so I guess our advice would be: don’t give yourself a hard time if you are juggling, but try set specific time when you are ‘ working’ and specific time when you’re ‘life-ing’ and enjoy both! For us with very young children our days are often spent being with them and we leave work for when they are in bed at night (moon room office we call it – haha) We have also often reminded each other to keep an our end goal in sight and stay true to that and ourselves within all our decisions.
Tell us about your favourite way to spend a day off …
[Seana] I had one the other day – it was Sunday and we started with making pancakes as a family at home, then I did a little more cooking while Adam had Ivy and Ollie outside with him working in the garden. Later we went to the beach (the Pass in Byron Bay is our favourite), later we got the kids sushi in Byron for dinner and they were home in bed by 6pm so Adam and I could have a glass of wine and catch up .
[Brigid] When I have a day off at the beach would have to be my go to favourite way to spend it. It’s relaxing, Eddie loves it and Scott my husband surfs (I’m vaguely learning- hahaha) You can send a big text out to your mama friends and it’s no fuss and easy. If the weather is no good for that my other favourite way to spend the day is going to the gallery. I love GOMA in Brisbane and our family have a unit there so we can make an evening of it. They have great childrens interactive activities too. Coffee with friends, gallery, river walks and wine at lunch time, happy days!
Describe your family in 5 words …
Busy, loud, traditional, entertainers, loving
What’s your mantra in life?
We don’t exactly have one specific quote stuck on our office wall but I guess we are always reflecting about change, growing and challenging ourselves.
[Seana] We also completely value community and understand that together we can make a difference.
Random fact about you!
We grew up on a small farm in country Victoria . We have another younger sister Moira and younger brother Joseph.
[Brigid] – My background is in the arts and education. I’m married to Scott who is an accountant and we have Eddie who is three years old.
[Seana] I’m older than Brigid by two years, my background is in business and finance. I’m engaged to Adam who works in construction and we have Ivy (four), Ollie (three) and Iggy (four months)
Something you cannot live with out?
[Brigid] Family – sisters, partners, children , mother, father, brother – the lot! Travel and art. [Seana] And don ’ t forget about coffee and wine *laugh
What else inspires you as a woman and as a mama (anything at all).
[Brigid] We are lucky to have each other and we actually inspire one another loads as mothers, business women and creatives. Individually though…
[Seana] I love design, architecture and fashion – these have been inspirations for me for Bernii.
[Brigid] I ’ m really inspired by art in general and I also love technology. I love the idea that a mum can work from home and run an online business. Technology and social media can be exhausting but it can also be so inspiring in the way it can connect people.